El Zapato
Alex Nye

On the streets of downtown Santa Barbara, where the public tends to see primarily the decline of traditional retail and to feel a subsequent confusion about the area’s future, the city’s architects are not only sensing opportunity; they are acting on it. On Saturday, October 6, the American Institute of Architects Santa Barbara chapter will hold its 10th anniversary ArchitecTours on the theme “Rediscover Downtown Santa Barbara: Imagine How You Can Live, Work, and Play.” Beginning at 10 a.m., registered participants will gain access to 12 different locations in and around lower State Street that together constitute a carefully thought-out and culturally coherent vision of where downtown is going and what it could become.

From the newly remodeled historic Alhecama Theatre on Santa Barbara Street to the two-story penthouse at the top of the Granada building, from elegant live/work complexes created by architects for architects to truly affordable projects approved through the city’s priority housing overlay program, what these buildings have in common is a spirit of innovation that’s animated by a thorough understanding of the city’s specific current needs and established aesthetic traditions.

Jardin de las Rosas
Michelle C. Torres-Grant

For fans of classic craftsman cottages, there’s a Structures of Merit honoree in that category on view in the historic Brinkerhoff neighborhood. If you want to see what’s happening in the ongoing battle to reimagine retail, check out the Service Department, the latest concept from Kevin Moore Architect and the Miramar Group. Like the Funk Zone’s highly successful Waterline property, which is also a Miramar Group project, this open-concept, multi-tenant property has several different offerings, including a brewery taproom, two restaurants, a separate craft cocktail bar, and two micro-retail spaces. Unlike the Waterline, however, the covered patio bar and common entrance of this facility is on State Street. It’s an expression of the belief, shared by all the participants in Saturday’s tour, that attracting high-quality, local-friendly vendors to innovative mixed-use structures will be key in nudging State Street toward its next great flourishing.

Those interested in new ideas about how to live downtown will have the most to choose from, as fully 9 of the 12 sites on the tour feature some residential units. At the tour’s northern frontier, there’s Arlington Village, the first new rental project to emerge downtown in decades. If you haven’t yet experienced the building’s rooftop lounge, it’s a must for its panoramic views and unexpected location. If the Funk Zone feels more like your thing, consider checking out Cota + Salsipuedes, a new Funk Zone–adjacent property that takes advantage of the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program to pack 29 apartment units into less than 20,000 square feet. The three-story building’s design marries the city’s traditional Spanish-revival aesthetic to a more modern sensibility, making it a perfect match for the emerging neighborhood in which it is situated.

Anacapa Studios
Jim Bartsch

Amid the swelling tide of multiple dwelling units, it’s exciting to spot an innovative single-family home design like Independence House. This four-bedroom home is an adaptive reuse and conversion of what was formerly a 1,776-square-foot commercial garage. With huge exterior decks and a rigorously modern style, it’s a flagship entry into what promises to be an exciting new phase for residential development. When it’s all over, ArchitecTours participants will gather at an undisclosed, very downtown location to toast the accomplishments of our city’s top designers and builders.


The Rediscover Downtown Santa Barbara tour takes place Saturday, October 6, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with an after-party 4-6 p.m. For tickets and information, see aiasb.com or call (805) 966-4198. Stops on the tour will be staffed by the architects and builders responsible for the projects; wristbands indicating your purchase of tour tickets will be required for entry.


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